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“The task of the Christian is to remain open to being carried forward by God to a deeper level of maturity. In [Hebrews] 6:1-3 the preacher is saying very simply, You cannot go back in time. You cannot pretend that you do not understand the foundational truths you learned after you became Christians. You cannot act as if you need someone to specify for you what it means to be a Christian in the world. You have to assume responsibility for the level of instruction, knowledge, and experience you already possess.” – William Lane

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Though I track his social/cultural commentary somewhat regularly in the NYT, this is the first book I’ve read by David Brooks. Bobos in Paradise is a witty and sometimes mean-spirited description of the U.S. upper class, circa 2000. For a social commentary, the book is a bit outdated. However, I still found it useful & relevant. It provides a solid foundation from which to observe the cultural and moral trends of today, which aren’t too far away from the late-90s atmosphere of the “Bobos”.
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“Bobos” is a term Brooks coined to describe the new elite, a mix of 60s bohemian ideals and 80s bourgeois drive for success. He does a fine job of tracing the origins of our country’s educated class, bringing the reader up to speed with a very abridged (albeit colorful) history from 1770- 2000. From there, he generalizes the Bobos’ consumption habits, political ideology and morals with biting wit. These generalizations range from laughable caricature to surprisingly resonate sketches of our lives.
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The real value in this book comes not from Brooks’ description, but rather his analysis and projection of how Bobo morals & ideology will influence our culture. Two chapters in particular make this book worth the read- “Politics & Beyond” and “Spiritual Life”. In the politics chapter, Brooks asserts that it is possible to be “tranquil to a fault”. He quotes Tocqueville, who had these same fears 170 years before: “What worries me most is the danger that, amid all the constant trivial preoccupations of private life, ambition may lose both its force and its greatness, that human passions may grow gentler and at the same time baser, with the result that the progress of the body social may become daily quieter and less aspiring.” 
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 According to Brooks, this atrophy of ambition has come to pass. In broad, but arguably accurate strokes, he observes the Bobo generation detaching from public life with a corrosive cynicism for government as well as for public & private institutions. This apathy breeds complacency, paralyzing political progress or social change.
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Reading this chapter got my wheels turning and I’d like to take the *briefest* aside to toss in my two cents. There really is no greater contrast between our youth counterculture and the counterculture of the 60s. Hippies found their common identity in fighting injustice, protesting the war and taking political action (or exiting the political arena, which is still a political action). Today’s hipsters couldn’t be further from hippies. Their identity is founded on not what they believe in, but what they buy (or, more accurately, pirate). Be it vintage or designer clothes, obscure music, or whimsical ways of decorating, the hipster finds fulfillment in the discovery and ownership of something he or she usually didn’t even create. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing on consumerism in itself. I do believe well-made things deserve to be recognized, bought, collected. However, there seems to be something missing if those items form a generation’s central identity and meaning.
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Reading this chapter got my wheels turning and I’d like to take the *briefest* aside to toss in my two cents. There really is no greater contrast between our youth counterculture and the counterculture of the 60s. Hippies found their common identity in fighting injustice, protesting the war and taking political action (or exiting the political arena, which is still a political action). Today’s hipsters couldn’t be further from hippies. Their identity is founded on not what they believe in, but what they buy (or, more accurately, pirate). Be it vintage or designer clothes, obscure music, or whimsical ways of decorating, the hipster finds fulfillment in the discovery and ownership of something he or she usually didn’t even create. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing on consumerism in itself. I do believe well-made things deserve to be recognized, bought, collected. However, there seems to be something missing if those items form a generation’s central identity and meaning.
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The chapter on spirituality also makes Bobos worth the read. In an effort to be conscientious and resist making this blog post into an essay, I really can’t dissect that chapter now. But if you’re interested, read this and check Bobos out yourself. This is probably the richest chapter in the book.
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“The thing we are in danger of losing with our broad, diverse lives is a sense of belonging. A person who limits himself or herself to one community or one spouse is going to have deeper bonds to that community or spouse than the person who experiments throughout life. A person who surrenders to a single faith is going to have deeper commitment to that one faith than the person who zigzags through a state of curious agnosticism. The monk at the monastery does not ead an experimental life, but perhaps he is able to lead a profound one… maybe in the end the problem with this attempt to reconcile freedom with commitment, virtue with affluence, autonomy with community is not that it leads to some catastrophic crack-up or some picturesque slide into immortality and decadence, but rather that it leads to too many compromises… leading a life that is moderate but flat… finding nothing heroic, nothing inspiring, nothing that brings life to a point.” 

This post is my attempt to retain and respond to C.S. Lewis’ chapter Friendship in his book The Four Loves

Friendship, that mysteriously unnecessary love, bears great resemblance to art or literature, according to Lewis, in that it is not necessary to our survival but it makes surviving worthwhile.

Friendship differs from companionship. Companionship arises from being thrown together in a workplace, family or in our studies. In our hunter-gatherer days, companionship was necessary to band together as a pack and get things accomplished. This is still the case today. We must be, at some level, of the same mind as the people we are working with, working towards a common goal on a team to meet the bottom line or get a project finished. However, companionship is brought to the level of friendship, when, according to Lewis,

two or more of the companions discover that they have some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’

Lewis talks about the benefits of friendship. A friendship doesn’t form based upon common race or family situation or profession. These things fall into place as friends get to know each other. However, friends are on a common quest for truth and they get to know each other through these interests that they share.

There can also be a great amount of humility that comes out of a friendship. Lewis says, “In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.” In addition to this, a true group of friends all bring out the best in each other when they are all there. Sometimes friends are not complete in just a group of two, they need others to bring each others’ best qualities fully out. This symbiotic relationship between friends is breathtaking and humbling. What a blessing to have friends like these! We can never deserve a gift like this!

Lewis also warns about the darker sides of friendships. Just as friendships can be based upon something positive or productive, so can they be based on a mutual hatred or grievance. Even in good friendships, writes Lewis, “the transition from individual humility to corporate pride is very easy.” It is short jump to go from feeling honored to being a part of a group full of funny, intelligent, loving friends to feeling as though you all are superior and delighting in being known by the “best” of people. While friendship must exclude in some sense (you cannot have an intimate relationship with someone if you are always forced to meet with them with 30 other people), friendships based upon exclusivity are shallow because there is nothing deeper shared but the form of the friendship itself. It defines itself in a negative space, who cannot be let in, and therefore limits itself greatly.

Lastly, Lewis highlights the Christian perspective on friendship as he closes the chapter, pointing out:

The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.

With graduation and my job next year drawing nearer and nearer, I thought it would be helpful to reflect upon some of the best books I have read this semester and what I have learned from them. Reading is one of the best way for me to learn, and whether it’s a biography, piece of literature or non-fiction work of theology or apologetics, it is always helpful for me to discuss what I am reading with others and write about it.

 Fabric of Faithfulness by Steven Garber
Whether your a college graduate, college student, professor or college minister (or even a parent!), this book is super helpful in identifying the core ingredients that people need to connect the dots between what they believe and how they behave everyday. The book explains in detail how students a mentor, community and set of tested convictions to be able to live out their faith. A mentor is someone who can show them that this relationship with Christ is feasible and lasting and demonstrates how it can play out in their workplaces. A community is a group of peers who they can live life with, learning from each other and challenging each other. A set of tested convictions means beliefs that can be interrogated and seen through the lens of culture and the college lifestyle.
This book was very helpful to me because it articulated the purpose and goals for campus ministry so well. It gave me priorities to focus on when equipping students to be salt and light in their university and in their future careers as well.
Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
I love reading biographies! The best ones are extremely compelling and narrative and allow me to step inside some real person’s shoes for a bit. Biographies also allow me to survey someone’s life and learn lessons that took them their whole 70 or 80 or 90 year lifespan to discover. How spectacular this is!
This is the first Jonathan Edwards biography I’ve read. Published by Yale University Press and written by Marsden, it is a thoughtful, labor-intensive project. Extremely well-written, it encapsulates America at that time period and illustrates Edwards’ life and the Second Great Awakening without any superfluous sentimentality. The reader is able to see this great “hero” of the faith as not a hero at all– but rather a man leaning his whole weight on God’s grace and sometimes so plagued by doubt and fear that he struggled with accepting that he truly was saved. Not only do Edwards’ heart issues parallel those in my own heart and in those of my friends. The struggles that the Calvinists were going through at that time, including church schisms, raising up the next generation, etc., are remarkably similar to issues that the American church is wrestling with today. This book gave me both historical perspective and encouragement.
Friend Raising by Betty Barnett
As I raise support for my position next year, it is both helpful and heartening to be walked through the process by a seasoned veteran. Barnett has been raising support throughout her whole career, and  offers sound strategies as well as the Biblical perspective that one must maintain when support-raising. Also, putting support-raising in the framework of friendship is very helpful. Her book is filled with Scripture and the last 20 pages are helpful resources on how to organize and keep track of your support team.

In the last post on reading and Reinke’s new book, Lit!, we talked about how to make time to read. In this post, we’ll be using Reinke’s book to address the issue of reading comprehension.

I never absorb what I read!

I am all too familiar with this problem. Although the average person probably won’t remember 90% of the words they read, it’s the important concepts and select phrases and quotes that stay with us and make reading worthwhile. How do we go about remembering those important points to share with someone or remind ourselves of later on in our lives?

1. Practice reading meditatively rather than reading and reacting.
Ever read a few pages of a book and want to take a facebook break? Or do you come across a great sentence and feel compelled to tweet it or tumble it? The Atlantic, the LA Times and Wired have all written pieces on the internet’s negative effect on our attention spans. It’s a fact, online habits greatly reduce our ability to concentrate. Reading is exercising that long-term concentration that we don’t get many other places. Try to set aside 30 minutes to read uninterrupted. When you come across a quote you like, something you don’t understand or an idea you think is important, think about it yourself first. Write in the margins or pull out a notebook and jot it down. Things will stick in your mind much better if you think about them after your read them.

2. Mark up your books.
Although librarians may have hit you with a ruler for doing this in grade school, don’t be afraid to write in them now! The main reason why I buy my own books is so that I can write my reactions in the margins, highlight, star important points and dog-ear the pages. Also, even if you end up not writing a lot in a book, simply holding a pen or pencil while reading and tracing the lines will keep you focused and and even help you read quicker.

3. Aim for quality, not volume.
That said, reading quickly is not the goal of reading. In fact, reading lots of books isn’t even the goal of reading. To read well, we must be reading to glorify God by delighting in the written word and gaining wisdom. We can’t do this if we rush our reading. Reinke says,

“A wide gap separates a reader who simply consumes books from a reader who diligently seeks wisdom. Book consumers view books as ‘things to get read’. Wisdom seekers view books as fuel for slow and deliberate meditation” (178).

4. Join a book discussion.
A sure-fire way to prevent yourself from being a selfish reader is to discuss a book with friends. Do you read to help others understand things? Do you use what you’ve learned to apply it to your life and the lives of your friends? Do you join a book club with a humble and teachable heart, willing to acknowledge that others have gotten different things out of the same book you’ve read? Read to build up your community. Let it be a blessing to those around you!

Reinke ends his helpful book by pointing out that in reading, like in everything else, Christ is the center. There is no reading or comprehension without the light and grace of God in our lives. We find our identity and our confidence in Christ – not in how many theology books we can read or how well we use our time. Psalm 36:9 reminds us, “In your light do we see light.” Reinke responds with this exhortation:

We are humbled, but we are encouraged. We grab a new book and press on, not as slaves bound to a chore, but as liberated sinners who read to delight in the gifts of our God. We press on, reading and thanking God for the light we do see in books, and for his illuminating grace that lights our way. (185)

“It seems to be a rule of nutritionism that for every good nutrient, there must be a bad nutrient to serve as its foil, the latter a focus for our food fears and the former for our enthusiasms.” 

We are a culture obsessed with eating. Paradoxically, we never seem to find time to sit down around a table and eat meals, prepare food at home or grow a garden. We know all about the latest diets and the caloric value of what we eat, but we probably can’t identify more than half of the vegetables offered in our grocery stores or markets. According to Michael Pollan, we have turned into a nation that fixates on eating, but no longer enjoys it.

Taking his aim on what he calls the ‘reigning ideology of nutritionism’, Pollan dismantles our pyramid-style mindsets and gleans wisdom from our great-grandparents’ traditional diets. He advocates an escape from the preserved, imitation food of the western diet and elaborates on 3 simple guidelines for doing so: eat food. not too much. mostly plants.

Pollan’s work doesn’t claim to be a thorough scientific analysis of why nutritionism and food science are failing us. As a sociological study, it gratefully acknowledges and curates the work of doctors and researchers. But ultimately, In Defense of Food is an everyman’s book. It is a celebration of our food heritage and a call to return to loving what we eat.

Till We Have Faces’ surprised me. If you know me at least a little bit, you’re probably aware of the fact that I’m a huge C.S. Lewis junkie. I’ve read and re-read Narnia, stalked his haunts at Wheaton College and Oxford and am still digesting his adult fiction and apologetics classics. He’s one of my favorite authors, and like most of my favorites, I can recognize his voice and style anywhere. That is, until I read his final, and, according to him, best work of writing […]

I wrote for Veritas Mizzou on redemptive themes, longing and love in Lewis’ TWHF. Read the full post here.